September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
"It was challenging," said Travis Thamert, a senior at Owatonna High School. "We didn't study since it didn't matter if we won ... because they judged differently."
Thamert, along with his brother, Matt Thamert, Andrew Kern and Kelsey Mussman spent June 22 through July 5 in Scotland for the International Dairy Judging contest in Edinburgh, Scotland, and toured Europe with their coaches and chaperones, Tracy Thamert and Lisa Kern.
Unlike judging in the U.S., teams were broken into sets of two instead of four. Kern and Mussman judged together while the two brothers paired up on a team.
The contest, which was held on June 25, was broken down into three divisions: high school division, junior college division and the college division. Kern and Mussman placed first overall among 20 teams in all the divisions and the Thamert brothers ranked ninth in the high school division.
Team size was not the only thing different for the judgers. In the ring they only had four minutes to judge each class, instead of the 12-15 minutes they received in Minnesota. Kern said it was especially challenging to take notes for reasons in less than four minutes.
"It gave you no time to second guess yourself," said Thamert.
They judged four cow classes - one Jersey, one Ayrshire, and two Holstein classes - and gave two sets of reasons. During their reasons, a two minute extemporaneous speech on why they placed the cattle as they did, Mussman said they brought the attention to those present in the room by starting out the introduction with, "Ladies and gentleman, I place this class ..."
They also had to wear white lab coats during the contest and were allowed to walk up to the cows to touch them.
The night before the contest, the Scottish Youngstock Person of the Year gave a presentation on what they looked for in their cattle.
In Scotland they focused on the head, looking for a wide muzzle, big nostrils and alert ears.
They believe if the animals have big nostrils they can breathe more, if they have wide muzzles they will eat more to produce more, and alert ears mean they are healthy. The presenter said a good judge could look at a cow's head and determine its placing.
Mussman said the team debated whether to change their judging tactics or to keep judging the same.
"We judged the same as we did here and we still did well," said Mussman who, is a freshman at the University Minnesota-Twin Cities majoring in agriculture education.
The team said they did not notice much difference between American cows and Scottish cows except their size. They talked to a Scottish farmer who said producers wanted the genetics of American cows but not their size. All the facilities are built smaller, and they want smaller cows to fit in their barns.
The team had the chance to visit several of these Scottish farms. Kern enjoyed staying with their host families and getting to know about their lifestyle.
"Things move a little slower there," said Kern, a sophomore at University of Wisconsin-River Falls majoring in dairy production. "It seemed like people enjoy life more."
Mussman noticed that there were hardly any tiestall barns. Because of a milk quota, farmers milk on average 60-80 cows and still have a parlor. Kern also saw that they use more robotic milkers. Another unique aspect the team saw was the farmers feeding whole potatoes in their cows' rations. She said they have very few problems with choking.
"I enjoyed seeing and learning about how they farm over there," Thamert said.
Each judger that participated had the chance to go to the Luxembourg Show and Sale. Each team had a shift to watch the sale animals during the day and made sure they stayed clean. They said it was a great experience to help at a national sale. The top lot was a pick of flush from Castel James Jolie, which brought in 35,000 Euros, equivalent to $45,780.
Besides visiting the farms and learning about Scotland's agriculture industry, the team had a chance to do some touring of Europe. Matt Thamert, who is a private first class in the U.S. Army currently stationed in Kuwait, said his favorite part was visiting the Eiffel Tower. The team also saw the Champs Elysees, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Reims Cathedral, where the kings of France were crowned.
While in Scotland they visited the Warwick castle, one of the best restored castles in all of England and now owned by Madame Tussuad's of the London wax museum. In England they saw the Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace and the London Eye. Travis Thamert enjoyed seeing the production, "Wicked," performed at London's Apolio Victoria Theater.
From being named international champions to visiting Scottish farms and touring Europe, the four Owatonna FFA members had a memorable trip.
"I had a great time and saw a lot of amazing sites" Matt Thamert said. "I will definitely be going back to Europe."